summit size-up

Tisch: Consensus from Thursday summit should guide evaluation redesign

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
From right, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Kathleen Cashin and Judith Chin in March.

Ahead of a high-profile summit aimed at helping the State Education Department finalize a new teacher evaluation system, Chancellor Merryl Tisch said she hoped the marathon event would lead to consensus.

“It’s time for everyone to stop yelling and casting aspersions,” Tisch said in an interview Wednesday.

“This has been so highly politicized and charged that sometimes it’s very difficult to have voices of reason be pervasive,” Tisch added. “We’d like to be a voice of reason.”

The event was made necessary by a law, passed last month, that will make sweeping changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system. That law ensures that state test scores will count for more of a teacher’s final rating, and requires teachers to be observed by an outside evaluator. Other details of the plan were left up to officials at the State Education Department, and the law requires the department to gather feedback from teachers, principals, and parents, as well as from education experts and researchers, as they make those decisions.

The event (which is invitation-only but can be viewed live online here) will provide state  officials with plenty of opinions. Accomplishing Tisch’s goal appears less likely, given the sharp ideological divides about the purpose of a teacher evaluation system and the  need for an overhaul — debates that have filled New York legislative chambers for  years — and a law that leaves officials without much flexibility.

By the time the eight-hour summit is over, the state’s 17-member education policymaking board will have heard from more than 30 people, representing nearly as many organizations, broken out into seven separate panels. If that’s not enough, the Regents could also pore over more than 600 pages worth of research, op-eds, and rebuttals to op-eds that have been posted to the department’s website in recent days.

Whether there will be much use for that feedback is also debatable. Especially when it comes to how student performance will be measured, the law is clear that state test scores must be the sole measure, and that those results will count for half of a teacher’s rating, though Tisch has said the 50 percent figure is just one interpretation.

Powerful education advocacy organizations say the event remains a chance to influence a debate that has only become more important, three years after a new evaluation system was introduced throughout New York (except New York City, which adopted a new evaluation system in 2012).

Robert Lowry, who will testify on behalf of the state’s school superintendents, said the new law was “incredibly flawed, and there’s a great risk of making the evaluation system worse.”

Lowry said he believed there were two main areas in which state officials could improve the evaluation system. First, the state could guarantee that a principal’s observations of a teacher count for more than those of an independent evaluator, he said. Nearly 70 percent of superintendents statewide said the principal observation process was having a positive impact on improving teacher quality, according to a survey conducted last summer.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has echoed that point repeatedly, saying outside observers would not only be a burden on the city but also a unhelpful to teachers.

Second, Lowry said that he hoped the department would figure out a way to give districts more time to introduce the new evaluations. The state law requires districts to negotiate a plan with their local unions by Nov. 15, and Lowry said the deadline, which is tied to a state funding increase, could complicate negotiations.

If the state can’t extend the deadline, officials should develop a “default” evaluation system for districts that can’t negotiate their own plans, Lowry said, a proposal that the association representing the state’s school boards said it would also support.

The event comes just days after a bipartisan education bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and Senator John Flanagan, who chair the education committees in their respective houses. The proposed law, which features changes to state testing and Regents appointment policies, would extend the implementation deadline by a month, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, and reaffirm that certain demographic information would be included in the complicated formulas that the state uses to calculate student growth for teacher evaluations.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew will be appearing at the event as well. The city teachers union wants the state to do away with any measurements of student learning that rate teachers of non-tested subjects, such as art and physical education, based on test scores of students they don’t teach.

Tisch said she expects the role of the independent evaluator to receive a lot of scrutiny Thursday, noting that they will be a costly logistical headache for districts. Ultimately, Tisch said, she is looking for proposals that are not too extreme.

“It’s the porridge scenario,” Tisch said. “Is it too hot, is it too cold or is it just right?”

teacher prep

Tennessee’s mediocre teacher training programs prompt ‘interventions’ with university presidents

PHOTO: Austin Peay
Austin Peay State University in Clarksville is among four Tennessee schools that have undergone "interventions" with state officials over the quality of their teacher training programs.

Armed with sobering data about the performance of teacher training programs in Tennessee, state officials are holding meetings with top brass at universities where they say programs have grown out of touch with the needs of K-12 classrooms.

About 40 programs in Tennessee feed the state’s teacher pipeline with about 4,000 new teachers annually. The largest are based at colleges and universities.

But those same traditional programs generally aren’t attracting enough high-quality candidates or producing enough effective or diverse teachers. Not a single public university in Tennessee scored in the top fifth of teacher training programs under a state report card issued in 2016. And the outlook isn’t expected to improve much under the 2017 report card being released early next month, officials say.

“This data is sobering. It tells us that higher education must do better,” said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. “I worry our higher education faculty in colleges of education get disconnected from what a K-12 classroom looks like.”

Krause outlined the challenges to state lawmakers during a presentation on Tuesday with Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

Their first “intervention meetings” were with the presidents and education deans at four universities: Austin Peay, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, and Tennessee Tech. Similar meetings are scheduled this spring with leadership of private colleges and universities across the state.

Krause described the first meetings as “very productive” — and illuminating. “In many cases, the presidents just didn’t know” about their programs’ shortcomings, he said.

Teacher quality is considered a driving factor in students’ success, making the quality of teacher preparation programs a front-burner issue in Tennessee.  A 2016 report said only a handful of the state’s programs are consistently preparing teachers to improve student achievement based on Tennessee’s TVAAS measure. The State Board’s new grading system also highlighted weaknesses based on racial diversity, candidates’ ACT scores, and whether they are producing teachers for high-need areas such as special education.

Reading instruction is another big challenge. In a state where only a third of students are considered proficient in reading, new teachers are arriving in classrooms ill-prepared to instruct students on Tennessee’s new reading standards. The state is working with higher education institutions so their faculty can take the same professional development on literacy that working teachers are taking.

But for the most part, the State Board has limited levers for improving the quality of teacher prep. The biggest hammer comes every seven years when each program undergoes a comprehensive review for licensure. (In 2014, the state raised its standards and revised its measures for effectiveness to include data such as placement, retention and employer satisfaction.)

Chancellor Keith Carver

Tennessee-Martin Chancellor Keith Carver said his school took its last state report card to heart. As a result of its overall score of 2 out of a possible 4, the university hired an assessment coordinator to help guide decisions based on data. “It’s a really good baseline for improving,” he said of the report card. “We’ve got some work to do in our diversity profile.”

Tennessee’s teacher candidates are overwhelmingly white and female. Of those who completed Tennessee’s programs in 2016, only 14 percent identified themselves as non-white, compared with 36 percent of the state’s student population.

“Colleges of education will not stumble into diversity. There has to be a very intentional effort,” Krause said.

View the full presentation from Tuesday’s legislative hearing below.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede